2013, Biological warfare, Brookhaven National Laboratory, chemical attack, Chemical warfare, Department of Homeland Security, DHS, July, New York, New York City, New York City Police Department, NYPD, Perfluorocarbon tracer, PFTs, radiological attack, S-SAFE, simulation, subway system, summer, Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD
A subway-borne chemical attack is one of those theoreticals that require the willful ignorance of regular passengers—for most of us, it’s just better not to think about it. Not so for the NYPD, which yesterday announced a plan to test how a chemical or radiological attack would spread through the city’s 200-odd miles of subway, by pumping an invisible gas through the system this summer.
The Subway-Surface Air Flow Exchange, or S-SAFE, has actually been in the making for over a year—that’s how long it takes to plan a fake airborne toxic event in a city of almost two million. Led by Paul Kalb, the principal investigator on the $3.4 million Department of Homeland Security-funded grant, the group will track the movement of small amounts of Perfluorocarbon tracers (or PFTs) through the five boroughs on three days in July. “The study will show us the worst case scenario,” he explained over the phone today. “It’ll be a close representation of how particles from a bioweapon or dirty bomb could move through the air.”
What, exactly, are PFTs? They’re a completely odorless, invisible, and non-toxic type of gas that happens to have incredible staying power, making it perfect for tracking purposes (it’s even been used to trace counterfeit money). It also has a high vapor pressure, so it can pass through fabric and objects-and it’s easy to detect, because it isn’t found in nature.